Spanish General Strike Reaches 77% Participation, But Officials Turn Deaf Ear

by Diana Rosen

Demonstrators crowd Cibeles Sqare in Madrid during Spain’s general strike on March 29. (Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)

Workers across Spain yesterday took to the streets today in a 24-hour general strike called by the country’s two main trade unions, General Workers Union and the Workers’ Commissions, over the economic reforms passed by the recently-elected People’s Party under Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.  Last month, the Spanish government passed labor reform laws making it cheaper and easier to cut wages and lay off employees, including reducing severance pay from 45 to 33 days.

Today, the government announced that it would not modify the labor reforms–which could still be amended in Parliament–despite the participation of hundreds of thousands in yesterday’s strike.

On Wednesday, economy minister Luís de Guindos had said that regardless of how widespread participation in the strike became, the government would not modify “a single letter” of the labour reform.

Although high unemployment has led to declining support for trade unions in recent years, General Workers Union Secretary General Candido Mendez estimated that the strike had 77 percent participation, and said that this figure was as high as 97 percent in industry and construction. Unions declared the strike a success and threatened further demonstrations if the government did not negotiate changes to the law before May 1.

The Spanish unemployment rate is currently at almost 23% overall, with a 50% unemployment rate for young people.

Yesterday marked Rajoy’s 100th day in office. The vote for the People’s Party dropped from 46% to 41% in an Andalucia regional election last weekend.  There is speculation that Rajoy delayed announcing the budget cuts until this week to avoid losing support from Andalucia voters.

The strike enjoyed greatest participation in Madrid and Barcelona, where large marches and other events, including a group siesta, have been taking place all day.  Still, workers are striking all over the country.  Bus and rail services were severely limited all over and only a small fraction of domestic and international flights operated.  As of 9:00 am, electricity consumption was reported as down 25% by Red Eléctrica.  According to the General Workers Union, almost all of the Renault, Seat, Volkswagen and Ford car workers participated in the strike.  Spanish Twitter users have been using the hashtags #huelga and #enhuelga (“strike” and “in strike,” respectively) to trend the topic and spread the word.

Angel Andrino, a 31-year-old protestor in Madrid, explained his participation in today’s demonstrations to BBC:

“We are going through a really hard time, suffering. The rights that our parents and grandparents fought for are being wiped away without the public being consulted.”

Andrino was laid off in February after the labor reforms were passed.

The strike remained almost entirely nonviolent throughout the morning and afternoon, with the exception of a scuffle between police and protestors early this morning at a Madrid bus depot.  Protestors attempted to prevent a bus from leaving for work, leading to 58 people getting detained and nine injured.  Several small fires were started in Barcelona mid-afternoon, but no injuries were reported.

At around 7:00 pm, however, police began using rubber bullets and tear gas on protestors in Barcelona.  Barcelona protestors have been smashing shop windows and some reports have come in saying that a Starbucks was set on fire.

The last general strike in Spain was held in September 2010 and targeted the labor reforms of the then-Socialist government, which were ultimately upheld.

*note: This article originally appeared on In These Times, a left-leaning journal. The article can be found here

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Debating Every Last Word of Ahmadinejad’s ‘Wipe Israel Off the Map’

by Uri Friedman


Photo credit: Reuters
 
The Washington Post‘s Glenn Kessler has a fascinating article today on the six-year dispute surrounding Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s declaration that Israel must be “wiped off the map”–a line that has become shorthand for Iran’s belligerent (some would say genocidal) posture toward Israel. The quote first stirred controversy in 2005, when Nazila Fathi of The New York Times cited a report by the Iranian Students’ News Agency on Ahmadinejad’s remarks at a “World Without Zionism” conference (the Tehran-based Fathi later issued a full-text translation of Ahmadinejad’s speech, and official Iranian sources like IRIB ran with the same translation). Since then, however, some have argued that Ahmadinejad was mistranslated, and that getting the translation right is critical to decoding the meaning behind the Iranian leader’s incendiary words.

Here is the passage in question from Ahmadinejad’s 2005 speech in Persian, rough transliteration, and Times translation (we’ve taken what appears to be the full line in Persian from an archived transcript of Ahmadinejad’s address):

امام عزيز ما فرمودند كه اين رژيم اشغالگر قدس بايد از صفحه روزگار محو شود

Imam ghoft een rezhim-i eshghalgar-i Qods bayad az safheh-i ruzgar mahv shaved

Our dear Imam said that the occupying regime must be wiped off the map

Let’s isolate the key phrases in the line:

  • Imam ghoft: People generally agree that these words mean “our (dear) Imam said,” and indicate that, instead of making a brazen, unprecedented proclamation, Ahmadinejad was quoting comments made by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the Islamic revolution, in the 1980s.
  • een rezhim-i eshghalgar-i Qods: Again, the literal translation here isn’t really in question. These words are translated as some variation on “the regime occupying Jerusalem.” But the meaning of the words is a matter of dispute. The liberal Middle East expert Juan Cole and the The Guardian‘s Jonathan Steele have argued that the phrasing suggests Ahmadinejad is calling for a change in the Israeli government rather than military action against Israel, especially since he was comparing regime change in Israel to regime change in Iran in 1979. But, as The Times puts it, others argue that the line “indicates the depth of the Iranian president’s rejection of a Jewish state in the Middle East because he refuses even to utter the name Israel.”
  • mahv shaved: Cole, Steele, and the Mossadegh Project’s Arash Norouzi have all disputed theTimes‘ “wiped off” translation above, arguing that these words instead mean “vanish from.” But an Iranian translator and consultant supportedThe Times‘ “wiped off” or “wiped away” rendering in 2006, asserting that the Persian verb is active and transitive (Cole says the verb construction is intransitive). At the time of Ahmadinejad’s speech, the Middle East Media Research Institute(MEMRI) translated the verb as “eliminated.”
  • safheh-i ruzgar: This is where things really get interesting. Ahmadinejad actually misquoted Khomeini, who used the phrase “sahneh-i ruzgar.” As the Times noted several years ago, “sahneh” literally means “scene” or “stage” and “ruzgar” means “time,” but translators in the 1980s interpreted Khomeini’s words as a metaphorical reference to a “map”–an interpretation that stuck when Ahmadinejad substituted “sahneh” for “safheh,” or “page.” But the Cole-Steele-Norouzi trio recommends the literal translation of “page of time” (MEMRI, for its part, went with “pages of history”). Steele claims that the “page of time” phrase, along with the rest of his translation, suggests that the Iranian president was expressing a desire for an end to Israeli occupation at some point in the future. “He was not threatening an Iranian-initiated war to remove Israeli control over Jerusalem,” Steele writes.

So there you have it. Depending on who you ask, Ahmadinejad was either endorsing Khomeini’s battle cry for Israel to be wiped off the map or invoking Khomeini’s wish that, someday, somehow, the Israeli government will collapse under its own weight. The varying translations, of course, may be inextricably linked to people’s political views on Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And some argue that the distinction is academic at this point. In a study for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Joshua Teitelbaum states that Ahmadinejad’s public statements, taken as a whole, indicate that the Iranian leader is bent on the “actual physical destruction of the State of Israel,” however one may translate his 2005 speech. Other Iranian leaders, he adds, have made even more militant comments.

And what of Ahmadinejad himself? He hasn’t exactly brought closure to the debate. In a 2006 interview with The Washington Post‘s Lally Weymouth, he evaded her question about whether he wanted to “wipe Israel off the face of the Earth,” in Weymouth’s words. “Let the Palestinian people decide their fate in a free and fair referendum, and the result, whatever it is, should be accepted,” he told Weymouth. “The people with no roots there are now ruling the land.”

More recently, Ahmadinejad has declared that a NATO missile defense system in Turkey “will not stop the fall of the Zionist regime” and that Iran’s response to any provocation by the “bankrupt, uncivilized and criminal Zionist regime” would be “crushing and regrettable.” Well, at least he said those things according to the Fars News Agency’s English translation.

*note: originally published on October 5, 2011 on The Atlantic Wire. Original here.